From rascal to rhizome: the wisdom of the crowd

Crowd, mass, or mob: those were the keywords to the 20th century. Words that have emerged during the industrial revolution and have only become larger and more comprehensive since then. From mass production to mass culture to mass media: the crowd ruled. But not without controversy, in fact, Crowd in it’s relatively brief reign has often been criticized for its tendency to herd behaviour resulting in superficiality without nuances. By the end of the 20th century, Crowd had lost it’s shiny crown.

However, after more than a decade in the 21st century, the opinion of Crowd has taken on a more positive attitude. Although the crowd in some sectors is still viewed negatively, especially in politics, there’s a paradigm shift on its way. With the growing popularity of concepts as crowd sourcing, crowd funding and open design, the focus is on the wisdom that the crowd can contain. In phrases like ‘collective intelligence’, ‘a spectacular ability to troubleshoot’ and ‘a crowd is smarter than its smartest individual’, you can hear a new faith in Crowd. And that faith continues to spread as more and more organizations are searching for ways to tap that wisdom.

Photo by Sam Sanford

Not only the attitude against Crowd has changed, also it’s appearance. Under the influence of internet, social media and augmented reality, Crowd has put on some new clothes. It’s not a carefully planned organization, nor an undifferentiated, unfathomable mob. In this new age, Crowd has taken on the form of a rhizome. This is traditionally a biological term: a type of plant that expands into an underground, horizontal root system in order to create new plants. But it’s also a philosophical concept, used by the controversial French philosopher Deleuze and psychoanalyst Guattari. Characteristic of a rhizome in both discourses is the lack of a hierarchy and core. There are a multitude of lines, many inputs and outputs, which can form unexpected, unforeseeable connections. And thus, a rhizome is considered creative and producing.

With this new appearance of Crowd, it’s not strange that people see it’s potential again. But how to source this potential? Maybe the answer is in the new image of Crowd itself. Like Chris Anderson, curator of TED, states in his interesting TEDTalk about Crowd Accelerated Innovation, the key factor to tap the wisdom of the crowd is opening up to it. We need to trust Crowd again. Crowd sourcing is not a one way process, you can’t gain your knowledge by standing on the side lines and analyzing. You need to submerge, becoming part of the rhizome and make connections. The most perfect example is ofcourse TED itself: opening up the TED brand for anyone who would like to organize an inspiring TEDx event wherever and whenever you want, like TEDxAmsterdam which will, on November 25th, hopefully form a beautiful spur in the TEDrhizome celebrating the true wisdom of Crowd: it’s connection in diversity.



This blogpost is also published on TedxAmsterdam



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